Whale constellation / THU 11-26-15 / Trans-Siberian Railway hub / Fluid-filled sac near joint / Computer cursor advancers / Accommodations along Black Sea / Lead in to boom de ay

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: TEN (71A: Number of mispelled [sic] words in this puzzle's clues (oh, by the way, watch out for those tricky circled squares!) — circled squares are areas in common words that are often misspelled. Today, the common misspellings will actually give you a *correct* answer in the Downs/crosses. Hence the "watch out" admonition in the revealer clue:

Theme answers:
  • PHARAOH / BALD and OHS (not BOLD and AHS!)
Word of the Day: PELHAM (45A: New York's ___ Bay Park) —
Pelham Bay Park is a public park located in the northeast corner of the New York City borough of the Bronx and extending partially into Westchester County. It is, at 2,772 acres (1,122 ha), the largest public park in New York City. The section of the park within New York City's borders is more than three times the size of Manhattan's Central Park. The park is operated by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. (wikipedia)
• • •

I actually liked how this one started out. There were lots of snappy little words like CHOKED and DOCILE and BAD COP, and the clue on UNZIP was especially nice (18D: Drop, like flies?). But after POP TAB (which I enjoyed), the bottom started falling out of this thing. The fill started to deteriorate badly, and when you first themer is the horribly dull OCCURRENCE, well, that doesn't promise good things. As I went along, I saw that the random circles were filled with random vowels, vowels that didn't appear to anagram to anything or form any kind of pattern ... and I'm wondering what kind of dumb post-solve puzzle I'm going to have to solve. And then after enduring TARARA and PSAT and RELO and ATAP and IFAT and SSRS and ILA and All Of It (please let constructing software help you ... please!) I got to the revealer clue. My first two thoughts were negative: "Who cares if words in the *clues* are misspelled?" and "Who cares that people often misspell those words? How many people a. solve the NYT crossword and b. somehow *don't* know how to spell PHARAOH or DEFINITELY? If you are a reasonably good speller, this puzzle will go right by you." OK, I'm not sure that second thought was so coherent at the time, but that's the gist of it. It was only after a few moments, after I considered the implications of misspelling the words in the grid, that I noticed that, technically, all the crosses would *work* with the misspellings. *This* made me admire the puzzle, conceptually, a heck of a lot more, even though the only one of these misspellings with any hope of tripping me is "SEPERATE," which even now looks correct to my eyes. So though it wasn't terribly fun to solve and is way, way too chock full o' junk, the theme had real cleverness to it.

Why does the puzzle think I will want to count things in the clues? It tried to get me to count 49 "R"s a while back, and now it wants me to count misspelled words? No. Pass. Also, all hail the arrival of the new Stupidest E-Word Ever: EBATE!! I went initially with ESALE, as that seemed equally stupid but no less plausible. With each new dumb E-word, I e-love ECIG more. Let's see, what else? I think PELHAM is probably the hardest thing in the grid (for non-New Yorkers), and I definitely would've clued that thing ["The Taking of ___ 1, 2, 3" (1974 thriller set on a New York City subway car)], but the crosses all seem fair—unless, somehow, you've never heard of a DACHA, which seems slightly possible (25D: Accomodations [sic] along the Black Sea) (oh, look, I unintentionally found one of the misspellings!). Since the puzzle was so easy, I didn't make many mistakes. TAB SETS (is that a thing?) instead of TAB KEYS at first (44D: Computer cursor advancers). CERUS for CETUS (36A: Whale constellation). I think CERUS has to do with wax." Oh, ha ha, I quickly wrote in EVITA before fully reading the clue at 23A: Musical character who sings "Wouldn't it be loverly?" (ELIZA). Else, no problems.

["Let's not split at Thanksgiving / That would be too rough"]

Happy Thanksgiving, which is also my birthday. Just FYI—the proper way to give thanks for me is with bourbon and pie, though regional traditions do vary.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Hogwarts fifth-year exams for short / WED 11-25-15 / Style is option clean is not sloganeer / Disney subsidiary / Disappearing conveniences / Latin word shared by mottoes of Yale Tufts

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Constructor: Duncan Kimmel and Clara Williamson

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Somewhat literal TV shows — I think the deal is that theme answers reimagine famous TV show titles as (mostly) straightforward descriptions of things:

Theme answers:
  • 16A: "Mad Men"? (PSYCHOPATHS) (that one's pretty literal)
  • 22A: "House of Cards"? (HALLMARK STORE) (also pretty literal)
  • 46A: "Game of Thrones"? (MUSICAL CHAIRS) (see, this is less literal ... a "throne" is a ridiculous way to refer to a simple "chair," so ... this clue probably needs two question marks)
  • 57A: "The Walking Dead"? (PALLBEARERS) (I'm not sure I even understand this one—PALLBEARERS "walk" while also *carrying* the "dead," so ... I ... yeah, I don't see how this one works. Maybe, uh, "those walking the dead" ... like ... taking them for a walk? I want this to work, but syntax and grammar matter in crossword cluing, and you'd have to torture the English language pretty hard to get it to agree that this clue/answer pairing makes any sense.
Word of the Day: SMALL SLAM (31D: "All but one" win, in bridge) —
• • •

There's a germ of a good idea here. But the theme answers gets less precise and more figurative and by the end, the theme appears to have fallen apart entirely. I can't get PALLBEARERS to work without hiring a very talented theme lobbyist and paying her a lot of money. If I carry a dead body, I am a pallbearer. So ... I am walking, but not dead. I am walking THE dead. But the title is "The Walking Dead," so ... how is PALLBEARERS a literal answer (in a way that is parallel to "Mad Men" / PSYCHOPATHS)??? I thought maybe we had entered the realm of the super-figurative, and "The Walking Dead" were zombies, who of course "bear" a "pall," in the sense that their complexion is the opposite of ruddy, but ... then I realized I was thinking of "pallid," not "pall," and besides, that kind of a wordplay stretch just isn't in keeping with the more straightforward literalizing that is going on with the other themers. I want this theme to work, but I just don't think it does. "The Golden Girls"? (EMMY AWARDS) ... I think that works. Am I doing it right? I honestly don't know. It just seems like there must've been many, many more TV shows that you could do this with, with better results. I will say that these shows are all very recent and non-network, so they have a kind of consistency. Which is nice ... if you can stick the landing.

One of my friends just remarked on Twitter that "I've never seen 37-Across (i.e. AMUCK) spelled that way." I replied, "No one has." That's god-awful. How you get yourself stuck with AMUCK, I don't know, but you need to rethink your choices. In fact, the grid seems really oddly built. Huge gaps between theme answers in the middle, with these intervening longer Acrosses that have nothing to do with the theme but that somehow result in our getting stuck with AMUCK. And also stuck with singular SCAD, which, jeez louise, no. No no. Stop it. Back to the drawing board. SES and MEI are also yucky in a super-undemanding grid. Ditto ETUI. The puzzle felt easy, but sussing out the themers actually took some work. I forgot that HALLMARK had STOREs, so getting the STORE part took an odd lot of work. And PALLBEARERS ... well, you can see why that took work. I also struggle with GANGSTERS, largely because that seemed a very anti-climactic answer for 33D: Capone and Corleone. Those aren't just GANGSTERS. Those are crime bosses, crime lords, kingpins. So after GANG- I was looking for something signifying Big Cheeses ... but all I got was -STERS. Not inaccurate, but kind of a letdown.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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